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A neurotic Bond in Quantum of Solace


Daniel Craig and Olga Kurylenko in Quantum of Solace - PHOTO COURTESY OF UNITED ARTISTS/ COLUMBIA PICTURES

Quantum of Solace opens Friday throughout the Triangle

A woman lies prone on a bed, her naked, post-coital body face down and completely coated with a precious natural substance that suffocates her skin, killing her in the process. This scene from Goldfinger is among the most iconic in the James Bond canon, and, interestingly, it is replicated meticulously in the latest Bond entry, Quantum of Solace. But, instead of Jill Masterson being lacquered in gold paint, today a British agent named Strawberry Fields is soaked cap-à-pie in black gold. The recycled image is obviously nostalgic, but it also speaks to the passage of time and the new film's present-day context.

Still smarting from the betrayal by the late Vesper Lynd at the end of Casino Royale, Bond (Daniel Craig) throws himself headlong into rooting out those responsible for corrupting and killing her, a shadowy global terrorist conglomerate named QUANTUM. While dismantling QUANTUM is also the aim of British Intelligence, this sets the stage for the "Don't make this personal" lecture M has been giving 007 since the Sean Connery days. When Bond goes rogue to escape the strictures of his MI6 minders, it recalls the defrocked Bond in Licence to Kill.

One can adore Bond lore while also recognizing the need to conjure a new paradigm. And, after its heralded reboot in Casino Royale, the Bond franchise seemed poised to reclaim its cinematic spy thriller crown. But, inside its opening 10 minutes, QOS shows some of the atrophy that plagued the Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore eras. The pre-credits sequence—filmed with a neo-Bourne, camera-in-a-blender flair—is a car chase that goes nowhere. From there, it's on to the regrettable return of the shopworn title sequence with its bevy of silhouetted girls and phallic gunfire.

The rest of the remarkably short (106 minutes) film is a rather truncated affair filled with conservative fodder. Evoking the Red Scare fears of the 1950s, QUANTUM converts infiltrate the highest levels government worldwide, including the inner circle of M (Judi Dench). The CIA gets in bed with one arm of the terrorist organization in hopes of securing oil rights in the countries they disrupt, to the consternation of agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, still channeling the righteous indignity of his Colin Powell in W.). And, the villain du jour is Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a QUANTUM appendage masquerading as an environmentalist who specializes in hijacking the water supplies of Third World countries and then exacting ransoms out of the despots he props up.

One significant area where this Bond film wisely distinguishes itself from its predecessors is maintaining a continuous storyline from the earlier film. However, only once does a new Bond order manifest itself. Against the backdrop of a production of Puccini's Tosca taking place on the floating Seebühne along Lake Constance in Bregenz, Austria, Bond manages to unmask members of QUANTUM as they conduct a furtive meeting in plain sight among the throng of opera-goers. It is one of the most sublime sequences in all of the Bond films, both in its execution and in the choice of Tosca and its theme of deception and revenge.

That said, director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball) fails to fully realize the film's thematic potential before Bond and gal pal Camille (Olga Kurylenko), herself on a related revenge mission, veer into the proverbial climactic showdown inside the villain's lair (here, a giant eco-hotel in the desert powered by hydrogen fuel cells). The script is the product of five screenwriters and multiple rewrites, which generates several showcase scenes that never mesh into a cohesive whole.

What elevates even this middling Bond chapter is the presence of Craig, making his sophomore appearance in the series. His 007 is taciturn and seemingly emotionally cold, but he is actually a more human Bond, one who bleeds when injured and constantly does silent battle with his stifling neuroses. Quantum of Solace draws its name from the third short story in Ian Fleming's For Your Eyes Only compilation. Although its narrative bears no relation to the film, the crux of the simple story rests on Bond's sudden recognition that his adventure-filled life lacks even the smallest unit of compassion and pales in comparison to everyday human drama. Moreover, Bond implicitly realizes that no one has a "quantum of solace" for him, either.

In essence, the charge to revive the Bond films is a search for its own "quantum of solace" beneath the patina of glitz and brand marketing. For all its strengths, this latest effort tries to have it both ways. Instead, Quantum of Solace is further proof that oil and water just don't mix.

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